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Palm Coast Monday, Nov. 13, 2017 10 months ago

County prepares for emergency radio system upgrade

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The new system would increase potential talk paths and allow for encryption.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

Flagler County’s emergency radio system has some issues: Equipment is nearing the end of its life expectancy, coverage in some areas is spotty, and first responders can have trouble getting a signal in certain large buildings, like schools and big box stores.

The county’s proposed 800 MHz radio system upgrade is expected to solve those issues, improving radio capability for Flagler County Fire Rescue, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, and emergency and public works staff in Palm Coast, Flagler Beach and Bunnell. The change would involve about 2,100 individual radios and 15 dispatch consoles.

County Administrator Craig Coffey told county commissioners at a county workshop Nov. 13 that the project has been put out to bid, but the county is still finalizing costs and has not yet chosen a contractor.

The work would also involve building multiple additional radio towers on county land to add antennas, and replacing existing towers. If the county uses its own towers and rents space on them to private companies — rather than renting space for the government antennas on private towers — it would save about $4.2 million over 15 years, county staff said. All of the towers would be constructed to withstand Category 5 hurricane winds.

Bidirectional amplifiers would be used to improve signals in large buildings like schools, big box stores and Florida Hospital Flagler.

The change would raise the radio system’s “talk paths” from the current seven to a total of 18, allow for encryption so that outsiders couldn’t listen in, and be able to interconnect with systems used in St. Johns County, Putnam County and Volusia County. It would also add features like GPS tracking, noise cancelling microphones and Wi-Fi.

With the new tower placements, the portable radios would have a minimum service area reliability of 97% west of U.S. 1 and 95% in buildings — even large concrete ones — east of U.S. 1.

The county’s current system is a Harris EDACS 8-channel system. The new one would be an Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) Project 25 Phase 2 Open Standard Architecture 10-channel system.

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